Thursday, March 3, 2022

REVIEW: 'Joe vs. Carole' - Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin Begin Their Feud With Trolling Behavior Online in 'Unwanted Animals'

Peacock's Joe vs. Carole - Episode 1.01 "Unwanted Animals"

Carole Baskin, a big cat rescuer, learns that roadside zoo owner Joe Exotic has hired a hit man to murder her. Seven years earlier, their rivalry begins when she builds a coalition to shut down his animal show and cub-petting operation.

"Unwanted Animals" was written by Etan Frankel and directed by Justin Tipping

Netflix's Tiger King was one of the first breakout shows during the early days of the pandemic lockdown. It was a case of the right show coming out at the right time. It was a lucky phenomenon that didn't quite extend to a successful second season. However, the world was immediately gripped by the story of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. They became the historic rivalry in the big cat landscape. It's drama that extends to this day. As such, it's thrilling to see the first scripted adaptation of their interactions. This show is actually adapted from the podcast produced by Wondery. As such, plenty of eyes have already been on this material. The creative team should know what works and what doesn't. But this show got Kate McKinnon to play Carole Baskin. That ensured a more comedic and quirky approach. That's fitting because of how broad and extreme these characters can be. They need to be over-the-top in order to contrast the seriousness of their actions. In the first moments, Carole and her husband Howard learn that Joe has hired a hitman. That sets the tone right away because the agents are warning them while also saying they aren't going to do anything to protect her. This threat is simply out there. It forces Carole to reflect on how this conflict started. It's not a story told from Carole's perspective. It's not her detailing these events in hindsight. It's the show immediately throwing the audience into these two big personalities. They have wildly different views on how animals should be treated. They clash because of those opinions. It's all set in the dawn of social media. Carole is stunned to learn she can amass a following just as fired up about malls hosting Joe Exotic's show as she is. She can even use the same technology that resulted in Obama's winning presidential campaign. She treats her mission just as seriously and deserving. It amounts to an email list with over 24,000 names. That's all it takes to make a difference. Of course, she also puts an emphasis on Joe. She sees him as the up-and-comer her organization can get ahead of before they get too big to handle by themselves. She also projects importance onto him because he has apparently been photographed at other events. Carole needs one singular man to blame for the worst this world has to offer regarding the treatment of big cats. That's not entirely justified as vitriol against Joe. That's only the start of this story.

The show does insert some irony into the story knowing where it will all lead. That plays to McKinnon's overall comedic sensibilities. Again, the storytelling had to skew that way to best serve her talents. It's also clear the show is making fun of Carole's stiffness as a dancer since she later competes on Dancing With the Stars. Meanwhile, the action showcases the chaotic thought process for Carole coming up with her signature catchphrase: "Hello all you cool cats and kittens." The narrative does strain under the pressure. The same applies to the moment Joe is seducing John by talking about porn and his attraction to which body types. It's lifted from previous glimpses into these lives. Part of that comes from the documentary detailing the story. Part of it comes from the reporting that informed the podcast. It's the show trying to appease all audiences by producing a way to experience it all over again. That can make it exhausting for the people who already have some awareness of the plot. The teases are there that suggest more of what's to come. It needs a bit more personality. Right now, it's very simple with its overall ambitions. It cements Joe Exotic as a creepy guy who loves animals and applies the same behavior to how he treats humans. Carole Baskin leads with compassion while that conveniently allows her to exploit the emotions of those earnestly fighting this cause. It's a very dynamic conflict. One that ignites declarations of vitriol. That was always present. Joe has no idea who Carole is the first time her name is mentioned. From then, it all becomes trolling behavior. Carole calls Joe out. Joe makes it seem like her non-profit isn't as altruistic as it appears. She gets online to start motivating her followers. Joe is determined to do the same thing. It's a lot of quick and simple escalation. They are the ones calling the shots while expecting everyone else to fall in line. It's a classic example of two alphas butting heads. They are used to the betas in the background knowing their place. That's evident with Howard who lets Carole make the decisions despite the confused looks it produces from those new to this dynamic. Meanwhile, Joe simply wants to take care of John sexually regardless of what he actually wants. These details are already informed. They are colorful too. However, it's still shocking to see how limiting this world can be especially given how grandiose this story actually is.